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Appeals court upholds decision that affair is medical malpractice

A few weeks back there was a post on this blog dedicated to the story of a New York doctor who was sued for medical malpractice following an affair the man had with a married female patient. The doctor reportedly treated the woman for multiple conditions including anxiety and depression. At the time of the previous entry, the physician was appealing a jury's finding that his actions were tantamount to medical malpractice. Well, the opinion of the appellate court is now in:

In a recent decision by the New York Court of Appeals, the court upheld the jury's decision to award the patient more than $300,000 in damages for her medical malpractice claim against the physician. The woman alleged that that her affair with the doctor resulted from "eroticized transference." The court held that a reasonable jury could conclude that the sexual relationship interfered with her treatment so as to constitute medical malpractice.

In addition to finding the doctor's errors in judgment punishable, the court also assigned fault to the plaintiff. The jury set the woman's portion of fault at 25 percent, meaning the award will be reduced by a comparable amount. The court also denied the $166,000 in punitive damages the jury had originally awarded the woman. According to the court, there did not appear to be any evidence of malicious conduct on behalf of the doctor in the case.

It is unclear what effect, if any, this case will have on Maryland medical malpractice cases going forward, but it certainly raises the possibility of an interesting precedent. The decision may be used to hold doctors more accountable for certain actions that were previously perceived to be beyond the scope of the medical practice. Even though an action may appear to be irrelevant to a patient's care, if it can be shown to compromise a patient's overall treatment the doctor may nonetheless be liable.

Source: Wall Street Journal, "NY court says affair is medical malpractice," Nov. 29, 2012

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